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Surprisingly Unsurprising Shanghai Surprise

In Shanghai, tomorrow has already arrived and so Disney has finally and officially announced the Shanghai Disneyland project. Disney released the first renderings for the park on its blog, and Imagineer Bob Weis, who has been Tweeting pictures from the construction site, posted this brief video of the groundbreaking:

So what have we learned from the announcement and first official renderings? Well, aside from the fact that it looks like Thomas Kinkade has picked up some work moonlighting at WDI, not a whole lot. After years of whispers that the park would be something truly striking and new, the first thing that springs to eye is that, once more, Disney has decided to build an imitation of Florida’s Cinderella Castle. Unlike the direct clone in Tokyo, though, this is a beefy, plus-sized castle, which Disney says will be its largest yet. As this is the first new park of the interactive meet-and-greet focused era, we can no doubt expect Cinderella’s new double-wide to be full of restaurant space and meet-and-greet opportunities. Disney wants to make sure that billions of Chinese consumers get full princess exposure.

There are obvious departures in the park layout from the traditional model; as we had heard, there is no Main Street. Instead the area between the turnstiles and castle is filled with an 11 acre park which, according to Disney, will feature yet more meet-and-greets. According to these renderings, this area will also feature the traditional Carousel and Dumbo spinner.

The rest of the park is more mysterious. You can make out a smudgy, blurry Pirate mountain, originally designed for Hong Kong, in the digital rendering, but everything else is fairly indecipherable. Disney CEO Bob Iger has said that the park will be “authentically Disney but distinctly Chinese,” and according to the New York Times the Chinese government has insisted that the park be “sharply different” from Disneyland and that it heavily incorporate Chinese culture. It will be interesting to see how Disney intends to do this, especially when the castle and other elements seem surprisingly boilerplate.

As uninspiring as I find these images, this isn’t a cheap-out project like in Michael Eisner’s waning years. The large 225-acre park represents a $3.7 billion investment, while the entire resort will clock in at $4.4 billion. As long as all that cash doesn’t go into interactive character shenanigans and flat-screen TVs, WDI should be able to do something really impressive. Let’s just hope it’s not all franchise overload.

According to Disney, the rest of the resort area outside the park will contain “two themed hotels, a venue for retail, dining and entertainment, a wonderful sparkling lagoon and some outdoor recreation areas.” They are aiming for a completion date of 2015, which is extremely impressive considering that it’s going to take almost that long for them to build the single new Snow White ride in Florida’s Fantasyland.

It’s hard to say when we’ll find out more about this project; Disney wants to keep other fly-by-night Chinese theme parks from cobbling together cheap rip-offs of its planned attractions, so it’s playing its cards close to the vest. We also don’t know how finalized the park’s design is, but with construction beginning and the 2015 looming (and the fact that they’ve had 20 years to plan this) one expects that things should be pretty far along. I would have chalked up the vague nature of these renderings to the typical and expected fluctuations in the design process, and I wonder how much of even these concepts has been settled on, but they don’t have a whole lot of time to spare messing about. Hong Kong Disneyland’s makeup changed considerably in the time following its announcement, but this project is the subject of much greater scrutiny. Hopefully they have a good idea of what’s coming, and hopefully we’ll find out more soon.

Although I would prefer more of this:

And less of this:

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18 comments to Surprisingly Unsurprising Shanghai Surprise

  • RO93461

    I cannot believe that is a painting of the new Castle. There are so many things that image is saying to me. I wonder why you would choose the same POV and set yourself up to compete with Herb Ryman?

  • I’m so glad you’re here because I really wanted to hear your thoughts about this. I tried to temper my reaction out of niceness but it was a definite facepalm moment for me. Drawing a direct comparison to the Ryman piece is just setting yourself up for disaster. As I said on Twitter when I was looking at these, if there are thunderstorms in Glendale tonight it’s because Herb Ryman is raining down lightning on WDI.

    We’ve talked before about how Ryman is the master of being vague, and implying detail where there isn’t actually detail. These renderings have to be vague (I wonder how much of the park’s layout is decided?) as well, but aren’t nearly as successful.

    It’s just… unfortunate. It took me forever to realize that there are actually redeeming features of the castle, but I had to look beyond the painting and try to interpolate what it would really look like. That never happened in the old days – reality could never hope to match those renderings!

    Although the castle does look like it has a nose like Rocky Graziano.

    I wonder what’s up at WDI. There were some really lovely and moody renderings that came out of Universal for Wizarding World.

    That Ryman thing kills me, though.

  • Also, I miss Marvin Davis.

  • RandySavage

    One thing I love about this site, is that you always post really big versions of the artwork. Thanks for that.

    I’m also disappointed that the design is so close to Cinderella castle – was hoping Shanghai would go completely unique in the castle department, like Paris did.

    I also thought ‘Kinkade’ when I saw the castle painting – you don’t see a lot of what I would consider fine art coming out of WDI anymore as you once did with the second generation masters like Dan Goozee and Tom Gilleon, and the first gen greats like Ryman, McKim and Colin Campbell.

    But other than that, I’m very upbeat about what I’ve seen and read about the rest of the park.

  • Gusto

    Ryman for the WIN!

  • rrr

    The picture of the SHDL castle is just fine–I have no idea what you’re complaining about!

  • Yoshiki

    I think this castle is great. Even though they have the base model as cinderella’s castle, I can see sleeping beauty, beauty and the beast, snow white and RAPUNZEL(which is a huge surprise for me) castle’s design.

    I know it’s too similar-looking to cinderella castle. but i’m sure that the final will look different because usually, concept arts are changed a bit.

    I understand how people are mad about the fact that there’s no main street usa. I know how walt loved this street. but parks have to change. also, it was made for usa, not for other parks. I know it’s awesome, but I bet that walt is happy there’s 5 of them in the world. don’t worry, one of the people who is involved in this project said it will be fantastic.

    one thing im am VERY UPSET about is the LOGO. come on disney, it’s the same as hong kong disneyland -_-

  • RO93461

    I’m not judging the design of the castle at all as this is only a concept and you cannot judge proportion or scale. It may be fantastic and I hope it is. It’s lifting the Ryman thing that seemed so surprising.

  • I’ll agree with that. There’s another new rendering on the SDL website with a different perspective on the castle that’s much more flattering. It actually looks pretty cool

    Randy – that’s a great list of fine artists in the WED/WDI stable, and there were so many more. I’d love to see some art of that caliber for this project. But I agree with you in that I still have a lot of hope for this project. If the interactive fetish doesn’t overwhelm things, and they actually work on creating some unique environments, it could be spectacular.

    I said this on twitter and will reiterate here: How awesome would it to be if they made a 1930s Shanghai area a la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

  • Mark W

    The impression I get is that Disney has released concept art that is intentionally as vague as possible. Personally, I wish they would make a castle from another princess besides Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but I’m not sure we can infer much from this beyond the basic castle design. Either the plans are still in flux and/or they have other reasons for not wanting to reveal too much.

    In my opinion, the story here isn’t necessarily how underwhelming the concept art is, it’s that Disney decided to make their “big reveal” a non-reveal.

  • Mark W

    Btw, when Disney says this is the largest castle ever built, I assume they mean in terms of volume? Are they going to violate the longstanding “WDW’s castle must be the tallest” rule?

  • Well also note that there are two different versions – one of these has the castle on flat ground, and the other is on a big rock outcrop with waterfalls. I hope they go with that.

    I posted a new story with the more flattering rendering of the castle. Even though it’s still heavily Cinderella-derived, I like it.

    It is amazing just how little these renderings show. We basically get an idea of a castle and the hub “garden” and that’s it. That’s to be expected, of course, but it’s kind of funny how one can react to a piece of art and then only later realize that it’s really telling you nothing!

  • >Are they going to violate the longstanding “WDW’s castle must be the tallest” rule?

    That’s a rule? Isn’t Tokyo’s at least as tall?

    Fewer details now means more media opportunities in the future; we’ll probably get land-by-land press releases spread out over the next few years.

  • Jack

    Tokyo’s castle is taller… By a few a feet.

  • Mark W

    WDW’s Cinderella Castle is 189 feet tall. Tokyo’s castle is 168 feet tall. Granted, WDW’s height takes into account the Utilidors level, but it’s still taller with sea level as a reference. (And WDW’s castle’s height without the Utilidors is believed to be 170 feet tall.)

    According to a WDW tour guide (granted, not always the most reliable of sources), the WDC insisted that Tokyo’s castle would be slightly shorter when the OLC asked for Cinderella Castle, out of respect for Walt and WDW as Walt’s last, greatest dream. It’s also worthwhile noting that though WDI went crazy when building DLP, DLP’s castle is just slightly shorter than WDW’s castle without factoring in Utilidors height. If Eddie happens to see this, perhaps he could provide some insight on this?

  • Marsha M

    I can’t say anything about the castle, because I think t may change as stated by a prior poster, But my thoughts on Main Street are this. WHen DL was built and subsequently WDW Main Street did play and still does play a big part in the whole feel of the parks. When Euro DIsney was built, I seem to recall a lot of complaining about the”Feel” of Disney wasn’t there, people went to Euro Disney expecting DIsnelyland and DIsney WOrld, but did not get it. Having never been there, I have no idea, but I do know there were some changes made. Hong Kong and Tokyo seem to have no problems, but again, I have not seen them in person. Now my point is, many Europeans and Japanese visit DL and WDW a lot, I assume that there are many visitors from Hong Kong, also. So it makes sense to keep the feel of the parks very much the same. People expect that things will be familiar. Shang Hai, perhaps the demographic that the parks is being aimed at is the “never been to Disney” crowd and it is a chance for the Imagineers to thing outside the park”. Of course with the Chinese government really directing the whole deal, it will be different. Will it be so different that it will fail? I hope not. Will it bring tourists into China that may not have thought to go before? Maybe, but I think China as a whole is still a baby when it comes to tourism. Hopefully SHDL will help it grow.

  • Jack

    Your figures could be correct, but you’re right that your source may not reliable. I’ve always heard that Tokyo’s castle was made slightly taller ( 4′ ) in the event that there may be settling underneath from the reclaimed land that it is built on. Either way it doesn’t matter… Both stories are pretty cool.

  • The rendering with the waterfalls is growing on me. I think the pastel overload threw me off at first.

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